Pssst! You…yes, you. Come here a sec. Hey, buddy, could I interest you in a…
(/glances around furtively)
…Week 15 Viewing Guide? You're a Tampa Bay Bucs fan, right? I see that t-shirt you've got on. This here, this Viewing Guide, it will tell you who to root for this weekend, you know, which outcomes will help the Buccaneers get into the playoffs and all that. It's the real deal.
Hey, where are you going!
Come on, just talk with me for a minute. What's that? Ah, you bought our Week 14 Viewing Guide, which centered around the notion that the Buccaneers were going to win their last four games and finish 9-7. Yeah, yeah, I know, the Bucs lost to the Saints and now 8-8 is the best possible finish. I get that. My bad. But didn't every other game in that guide go just like we said it should? The Eagles lost! The Vikings lost! The Redskins lost! Even the Panthers lost! In Cleveland! We didn't steer you wrong, did we?
Look, buddy, I'm not trying to sell you fake goods here. I'll admit it up front: That loss to New Orleans hurt. If the Buccaneers had won their last four games, they had about a 65% chance of making it into the dance. If they win out now, three in a row, their chances are more like 15%. But 15 ain't zero, right? You've got to give me that.
Here, I'll give you a little preview, a scenario that, along with the Bucs winning their last three games, gets them into the playoffs, 100%. Here goes…
· Green Bay loses at Chicago
· Philadelphia loses at L.A. Rams
· Carolina loses at home to New Orleans
· Washington loses at Tennessee
· Minnesota loses at Detroit
· Detroit loses at Green Bay
· Minnesota loses at home to Chicago
· Carolina loses at New Orleans
· N.Y. Giants lose at home to Dallas
· Washington loses at home to Philadelphia
Sure, that's kind of a lot of games that have to go our way (yeah, I said "our"…I'm a Bucs fan too, I'm not just doing this for fun), but is any of it really crazy? Except for perhaps Minnesota losing at Detroit, all of those outcomes are probably what will be favored to happen. Washington has to take a couple of tough losses but its quarterback situation makes that seem much more likely.
If all of those games fall right and the Bucs win out, they would end up in a tie with Philadelphia for the final NFC Wild Card spot, each team at 8-8. The Bucs would win the tiebreaker thanks to their head-to-head win over the Eagles in Week Two. Even if Washington wins one of those two games noted above and finishes 8-8 also, the Bucs still are likely to get in. That would create a three-way tie and the first tiebreaking step in such an instance is to eliminate all but one team from each division. Since the Eagles and Redskins are both in the NFC East, they would have a head-to-head tiebreaker and Philly is likely to have the edge there. So now we're back to Bucs-Eagles again and that's Bucs all the way.
So, what do you think? Come again? Okay, yeah, sure, I promise that if the Buccaneers do not beat the Ravens this Sunday that I won't try to sell you another one of these in Week 16. But, dude, just stick with me one more week.
Sold? Alright! Then read on! The Buccaneers Week 15 Viewing Guide is all yours!
Houston (9-4) at N.Y. Jets (4-9), 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday
NFL football on a December Saturday…isn't it a great thing! Well, it's even better for you because this one actually means something to the Buccaneers despite it being an all-AFC title. See, the Texans could clinch the AFC South title this weekend if they beat the Jets and both the Colts (against Dallas) and the Titans (against the Giants) lose on Sunday. Why do we care? Well, the Texans play at Philadelphia in Week 16, and wouldn't we like them to be as highly motivated as possible? Sure, even after Houston clinches they'll still be fighting New England for the #2 seed and a bye week, but if the division is still in doubt they would need that win in Philly even more. We didn't include this Eagles loss in our scenario above because we were trying to do it in as few games as possible, but we'd still like Philadelphia to lose as often as possible. So blow off your holiday shopping for a few hours, settle down in front of the TV on Saturday afternoon and put on something green, because we're all about the Jets here.
Verdict: J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS JETS!
Cleveland (5-7-1) at Denver (6-7), 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday
Okay, NOW go do your holiday shopping. Sure, a Cleveland win would marginally help the Bucs' "strength of victory," which could conceivably come into play in a deep tiebreaker situation. But probably not.
Verdict: Go…to the mall! (And check your phone from time to time to see if the Browns are winning.)
Arizona (3-10) at Atlanta (4-9), 1:00 p.m. ET Saturday
The Cardinals have already been eliminated from the playoff race. The Falcons technically have not but have almost no real hope. And since we're basing all of this on the Bucs winning out and finishing 8-8, Atlanta has been eliminated in that universe, since the most wins they could get to would be seven. That said, the Falcons have lost five in a row and it would benefit the Buccaneers for that free fall to continue. If Tampa Bay does win the next two games at Baltimore and Denver, running the table would then depend on a home win against Atlanta in Week 17. We'd like to see the Falcons limping into Raymond James Stadium on December 30. Or, wait, they're birds so, uh…flying haphazardly into Raymond James Stadium with a broken wing? Something like that. This is a lot of words to say something that should be automatic for Bucs fans: Root against the Falcons.
Verdict: In nature, a falcon would probably have little trouble with a Cardinal, but in this game we're rooting for the Redbirds to be the more ferocious flighted creature. Go Arizona!
Tampa Bay (5-8) at Baltimore (7-6), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
As Slim Charles said in the acclaimed Baltimore-based TV series The Wire, "Game the same. Just got more fierce." The Bucs really need to win all of their games now to have a chance and it starts in Baltimore, a city in which Tampa Bay won in overtime for the first time in franchise history and won another game by shutout, 25-0, to start their run to Super Bowl XXXVII. Either one of those would be fine. Heck, 48-47 would fine. Just needs to be a win.
Verdict: If the Bucs get 424 yards on Sunday, they would break the franchise record for yards in a season, with two games still to play. That would probably be enough to get the win, too. Go Bucs!
Detroit (5-8) at Buffalo (4-9), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
The Bucs need one loss by the Lions to keep them out of the end-season tiebreaker mix. In the scenario above we give it to them in Week 17 in Green Bay. But they could just as well get it over with right here.
Verdict: Go Bills!
Green Bay (5-7-1) at Chicago (9-4), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Did you know that the Packers and Bears first played each other in 1921? They have now met 195 times and the series is remarkably even. Green Bay leads it 96-93-6 and has an all-time scoring edge of 3,382-3,337. Lately, however, it has been decidedly more lopsided. The Packers have won 15 of the last 17 and haven't lost in Chicago since 2010. There were only seven Harry Potter movies the last time Chicago beat the Packers at Soldier Field. Time for that to change. The Buccaneers need the Packers out of the picture and this is their best shot. Green Bay's final two games are at the N.Y. Jets and at home against the Lions.
Verdict: Arresto Momentum! Bears need to cast a spell to slow down the Packers' momentum after the crushing of Atlanta next week.
Oakland (3-10) at Cincinnati (5-8), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
You know when your great aunt sends you a package of socks for Christmas? It's not exactly the highlight of the season but, hey, they're socks. You do need socks. Bucs fans aren't likely to get excited about this game either way, but a Cincy win would marginally improve Tampa Bay's strength of schedule number for tiebreaker purposes. That's…well, that's not really even as useful as a bag of socks, but it's something.
Verdict: Go Bengals.
Dallas (8-5) at Indianapolis (7-6), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Remember that in the universe in which this article is based, the Buccaneers are going to win at Dallas in Week 16. So if that doesn't happen, that universe will cease to exist and so will this article and you can't blame me. Anyway, if Dallas were to lose this game as well, that would probably keep the NFC East title in jeopardy into Week 17, which is when Dallas plays at the New York Giants. Since that's one of the games we've included in our scenario above, with the Cowboys winning, we would like that team to have as much motivation as possible. Fortunately, it's really easy to root against the Cowboys anyway, so it's not like we're asking you to swallow a bug or something.
Verdict: Go Colts!
Tennessee (7-6) at N.Y. Giants (5-8), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
Just in case the Cowboys do stumble to the finish line and can't take the Giants down in Week 17, it would be nice for New York to get that one loss the Bucs need them to get right here in Week 15. Just a little insurance in MetLife Stadium. Remember that the Buccaneers have a head-to-head loss to the Giants and thus would like to avoid them at the end-of-season Tiebreaker Party like you avoid that one guy who has all those stories about his cats. By the way, what's bigger, a Titan or a Giant?
Verdict: Hopefully the answer this weekend is a Titan. Go Titans!
Washington (6-7) at Jacksonville (4-9), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
The broken leg and subsequent complications for Alex Smith are no joking matter, and things got even worse when backup quarterback Colt McCoy also suffered a leg fracture. The Redskins turned first to Mark Sanchez and when that didn't work brought in Buccaneers 2008 fifth-round draft pick Josh Johnson. Johnson, throwing his first regular-season passes since 2011, provided a bit of a spark in relief of Sanchez last week but not until Washington was down 40-0 to the Giants. It's tough sledding for the Redskins ahead, and in our scenario we gave them losses in Weeks 16 and 17 to keep them out of a tiebreaker with the Buccaneers. This one would do the trick, too, though the Jaguars have been scuffling. Do it for your fellow Floridians, Jacksonville! Come on, you know we'd do the same for you.
Verdict: Go Sunshine State!
Miami (7-6) at Minnesota (6-6-1), 1:00 p.m. ET Sunday
The Vikings don't inspire the same sort of animus as do, say, the Cowboys. Or, if you're a Bucs' fan, the Panthers or Falcons. That is, until you've been in their stadium and heard that freaking giant horn about a thousand times. Don't believe me? Here, click this link and then push that button about 40 times in a row. See how popular you are in the office all of a sudden. Still, if that's what you need to get you in the Viking-hater mood, then do it because this is a big one. Even after losing at Seattle last week in a game that helped the Bucs and about five other teams immensely, the Vikings are still in possession of the second Wild Card spot. They do, as it is so dramatically put, control their own destiny. After this week, the Vikings have what appears like a very winnable game in Detroit in Week 16 before they host a Bears team that might already be locked into a playoff seed in Week 17. The Bucs need the Vikings to lose twice in the next three weeks, so this one is likely critical.
Verdict: Again, go Sunshine State!
Seattle (8-5) at San Francisco (3-10), 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday
This game doesn't mean much to the Buccaneers. I ran it through the New York Times playoff calculator multiple times with each team winning and there was no appreciable difference in the Bucs' chances of making the playoffs either way. The Bucs could conceivably catch Seattle in the standings if they lost out, but Seattle finishes the season at home with Arizona, so that seems unlikely. If you're looking for a reason to root for the 49ers, though, remember that their General Manager is John Lynch, and we're big John Lynch fans in these parts. Plus it would marginally improve the Bucs' strength of victory number, which I keep bringing up as if it's important. (It's not.)
Verdict: Go Niners, but if you have any jinxing powers, save them for Monday night.
New England (9-4) at Pittsburgh (7-5-1), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday
Hey, we're asking our downstate rivals to do us a solid this week. The least we could do in return is root against the Patriots, who have a chance to win the AFC East this week. If the Patriots lose however and if when the Dolphins upend the Vikings, New England's lead over Miami would be down to one game. Those two teams also split during the regular season thanks to the Miami Miracle, so New England does not own a commanding tiebreaker against the Phins. Plus, at this point if you're not a Patriots fan and you're rooting for New England, you may not have a soul.
Verdict: Go Steelers, though it has nothing to do with the Bucs' playoff chances.
Philadelphia (6-7) at L.A. Rams (11-2), 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday
That loss to the Saints at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday may have hurt, but it did have one little side effect that could help the Bucs: It turned up the heat on the Rams. By dropping to 11-2 (boy, there's a phrase we'd like to write about our team after a loss one of these days), the Rams fell back into a tie with the Saints at the top of the overall NFC standings. And now it's the Saints who (cue the swelling music) control their own destiny because they beat Los Angeles head to head in Week Nine. The Rams don't want to go back to the Superdome in a potential NFC Championship Game rematch, so every game becomes critical despite an already-clinched NFC West. That's good for the Buccaneers, because they need at least one Eagles loss and the Rams are the best bet to make it happen.
Verdict: Go Rams!
New Orleans (11-2) at Carolina (6-7), 8:15 p.m. ET Sunday
I could essentially cut and paste the paragraph above to describe the stakes in this game except, as with Jaws 4: The Revenge, "this time…it's personal." The Saints have essentially the same motivation to keep winning these last three weeks despite having already clinched the division, and they're playing a team that the Buccaneers really need to lose at least one game (and hopefully two). But this one involves the Panthers and I think by now you know our feelings about them. We've previously advised rooting for invading aliens, fire ants and telemarketers over the Panthers, and to stick with tradition we'll add the Saints and people who cruise in the passing lane to the list.
Verdict: Geaux Saints (but don't get used to it).